daffodils

The first time I remember noticing daffodils popping up in the springtime was my junior year of college. This might sound crazy to some of you—that I was into my second decade on this planet before I paid those bright yellow flowers any mind. But I grew up in a Southern California beach town and went to college in Los Angeles. We had warm weather and sunshine the whole year round. I don’t remember nature changing much with the seasons. Maybe the hills grew a little browner in the summer, a little greener in the spring. But palm trees don’t shed their fronds in the autumn, and I don’t remember any daffodils.

My junior year of college, during the spring semester, everything changed. My world expanded. I studied abroad in England in a small university town called Norwich. It was a truly magical season of my life, though of course I didn’t know that at the beginning. The truth? I was terrified. I was so homesick that I couldn’t even think about my homesickness because I was worried it would paralyze me. Instead, I told myself over and over again how excited I was. I stoked my excitement like it was the first sparks of a fire.

I had decided to study abroad because I loved the idea of living in England and traveling around a foreign country, and I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone. Waaay out of my comfort zone. You see, I was the child who never made it through a sleepover without calling my parents to come pick me up. I was the high school senior who didn’t even apply to any colleges outside of California because I couldn’t imagine not being a short drive away from my hometown. I guess you might say that, for me, studying abroad was a sink-or-swim decision. I had a feeling I would always regret it if I didn’t study abroad. So I went to the info meeting. I filled out all the paperwork. I put down my deposit for a dorm room and registered for classes at the University of East Anglia. It didn’t seem quite real until the early morning, a week after New Year’s, when my parents drove me to LAX and I hugged them goodbye. Of course, I cried. It all felt surreal. But, I told myself, this was what I wanted.

When I arrived, it was early January and the sun sank at 4pm. I had never been so far from home. It was pre-smartphone days, though we did have Skype, so I could talk to my parents and my brother. But it was a twelve-hour time difference and it felt, for the first time in my life, like I was trying to navigate this world—this life—on my own. I arrived by bus with nothing more than one large suitcase and the tightly grasped knowledge, deep within me, that I could do this. This was an opportunity to be my best self, right from the get-go. No one here had any preconceptions about me. Which was lonely—but also liberating.

That first day when I arrived, I remember buying a frozen dinner from the on-campus grocery store. {Soon, I would learn that the better shops and restaurants and real grocery stores were in town, a short bus ride away.} I remember staring out the kitchen windows at the inky darkness as I microwaved the frozen chicken curry in my quiet dorm kitchen. That first day, jet-lagged, I ate dinner at 4:30 in the afternoon. My first friend, a British student in my dorm named Stevie, teased me for eating dinner at an old-person’s time. But he sat with me and gave me the low-down on campus life and answered my questions. I was immediately grateful for his friendliness, and for the other students in my dorm—or, my “flat” as the British kids called dorms—who trickled in over the rest of the weekend, returning to school from winter break. They were gregarious and fun and welcomed me beyond my wildest dreams. By the end of the first week, I felt like I had found “my people.”

The campus really was beautiful, and pretty much the exact opposite of my urban Los Angeles experience. My dorm-room window looked out onto a wide expanse of wild grass and a large pond surrounded by a dirt path, and a marshy area farther on that you could explore for hours. It reminded me of Wuthering Heights. It was exactly what I had dreamed England to be like. What I hadn’t expected were the wild bunny rabbits, hopping around everywhere. And I hadn’t expected the daffodils.

My first couple months in England were cold and rainy. I had brought along a big tan downy jacket that I affectionately dubbed “Poufy Coat” or “Poufy” for short. One weekend, it snowed, and everyone ran outside and spun around in the falling flakes, sticking out our tongues and laughing. Snow wasn’t very common—not like later, when I would live in Indiana—so I wasn’t the only one who was excited. By Monday morning, all the snow had melted.

Shortly after that snow, the daffodils began popping up. I remember looking out my bedroom window and seeing the grass studded with yellow. Walking to class, I’d smile at clutches of daffodils, nodding along the sidewalk like little surprise gifts. They seemed like special messengers, sent to remind us: Spring is coming. Spring is on its way. Don’t worry—this 4pm darkness isn’t going to last forever.

And before long, before we knew it, spring did come. The days grew longer, warmer. It was the longest semester of my life because so much was new, but it also passed by in an eye-blink. Soon, we found ourselves on the cusp of summer. We studied for final exams sprawled out in the sunshine on the grassy lawn. We picnicked on blankets and ate ice cream cones. We ordered another round of drinks at the pub, sitting outside to savor the late rays of sunlight. And then, suddenly—even though we’d been moving towards it all semester long—school was out for the summer. I hugged my friends goodbye, promising to always stay in touch. I packed up my large suitcase and took the bus into town for the last time, where I caught a train and then the Tube to the London airport. I flew back home, feeling like not quite a different person than I had been when I left six months prior—but not quite the same person, either. I felt… like me, only bigger. Braver. More whole somehow.

I think of my days in England often. I especially think of them during this time of year, when the daffodils spring up. Where I live now, in Northern California, we have a greater change of seasons than we did in Southern California. Here, I occasionally glimpse a row of cheerful daffodils.

Daffodils give me hope, and not just because of what they symbolize. Yes, they remind me spring is coming. Yes, they remind me that the darkness won’t always last. But even more than that, they make me think of change. Of what we are planting within us now, that will emerge to fruition much later.

We plant daffodils in the fall. They nestle there in the soil for months, under the cold and rain and snow. And then, just when maybe we’ve forgotten about them, or have started to worry they won’t come up after all—just then, they pop their green tips above the surface of the soil. They grow upwards towards the tentative sunlight. They open their yellow faces to smile at us.

A lot of seeds—or maybe you’d call them bulbs—were planted within me during my semester abroad in England. I planted daffodils during that semester that wouldn’t break through the soil until years later. I planted daffodils that I never knew I would depend upon until, years later, I wept to see them. Bulbs of courage, of open-heartedness, of faith. Of plunging forward into something new even though it was scary and even though I didn’t feel quite ready. Of embracing the unknown. Of surprising myself. Of pushing past my comfort zone, into the glorious blank slate of a new adventure.

I’m still planting daffodil bulbs. Each day, I plant something new, digging into the soil of my life with equal parts grit and faith, believing that one day in the future—maybe when I least expect it—a new sprig of green will burst up into my life and bloom.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open up a new document on your computer and free-write whatever comes to mind when you think of these questions.

  • What daffodils are you planting in your life right now?
  • What is an experience you have plunged into, even though you felt nervous or scared?
  • When have you stretched outside your comfort zone?
  • Write about a time you surprised yourself.

on online dating, “meet cutes” & magic

Last week, one of my favorite writers Hannah Brencher published a wonderful blog post about online dating titled “Why It Doesn’t Matter If You Met (Or Meet) Online.” I loved her words against the stigma some still feel about meeting online. My heart especially felt drawn to this final graph:

It doesn’t matter where we meet. We are silly and insane if we get caught up in the “how we met” story that we forget the rest of the details. What will matter in 5 years from now is how we thought to build one another. How we thought to lay our hearts on the line. How we showed up. How we emboldened each other.

Hannah’s words got me thinking about my own dating experiences, both in person and online. To be honest, I was a bit nervous about online dating before I ended up taking the plunge and signing up for an account. It was a few weeks into 2014 and I was feeling ready for new beginnings. On a walk with a friend, we started talking about dating and how hard it was to meet a romantic partner “out in the real world.” My friend was a middle-school teacher at the time and I was living with my grandparents, writing for most of the day and teaching in the afternoons. The grocery-store “meet cutes” I had envisioned were not coming to fruition. I had met some new people at church, but no one close to my age.

“Here’s an idea,” my friend proposed. “We both sign up for online dating accounts. Best case, we meet awesome guys. Worst case, we go on some horrible dates and we get to laugh about them together.”

“It’s a deal!” I agreed. It was the extra little push I needed.

That night, I went home and created a profile on OkCupid. A couple days later, I was browsing the site and saw the photo of a cute guy with a nice smile… and a parrot on his shoulder? Curious, I clicked on his profile to read more. Through the way he described himself and his life, I felt like I got a good sense of him. He seemed like a genuine, kind and funny guy. Someone I wanted to know better. So I sent him a message.

In our first weeks and months of dating, when Allyn and I would introduce each other to various people in our lives and they would ask how we met, I was always impressed with the matter-of-fact way he would say, “We met online.” He wouldn’t beat around the bush. He wouldn’t evade the question. There was no shame in his voice. No hint of the questioning inflection I sometimes heard in my own voice – “We met online?” – as if asking for approval from the listener. Allyn was proud that we met online. It was part of our story, so that meant it was something to embrace, not hide.

It wasn’t that I was ashamed of meeting online. I think it was more that it seemed somehow less romantic, less special, to meet online than to meet in some other way, going about our daily lives. In the movies and in books and TV shows, people tend to meet not online, but in line — at the post office, at the drugstore, at the bank. They meet sitting next to each other on public transportation and running in the park. And in bars. But I didn’t want to meet a guy in a bar. {And I would never have met Allyn in a bar, because he doesn’t drink.}

I once asked Allyn if, had our carts bumped into each other in a grocery store, would he have started up a conversation. This was after we had been together a while, after we had said, “I love you” and after I had learned that parrot-on-his-shoulder photo was from a trip he took with his mom to Honduras. I knew that the very first time Allyn saw me, he thought I was beautiful. I felt sure that his answer would be, “Yes, Dallas Woodburn. If I had seen you pushing your cart through the produce section at the grocery store, I would have deliberately made my way over to those organic carrots and thought of some way to strike up a conversation with you.”

But no. Allyn was certain he would NOT have asked me out in a grocery store aisle. Even if he thought I was beautiful. Even if he wanted to go on a date with me. “That’s not my style,” he explained. “I would have been too shy to just walk up to a complete stranger and ask her out.”

Even if that stranger was me?

Yes. Even if that stranger was me, his future wife, in her tennis shoes and loose-fitting jeans, casually browsing the organic vegetable display. Me, a contender for least-intimidating woman on the planet.

To be fair, if our carts had bumped against each other at the grocery store, I probably would have been too nervous to ask for Allyn’s number. I would have assumed he had a girlfriend, or I would have made some other excuse to myself and then I would have kept on daydreaming about some other meet-cute straight out of the movies.

In the past, before going online, I did date guys who I met in cute or unusual ways. I met a guy on a plane once, when I was flying to Indianapolis from LAX to return to grad school after spending the holidays at home. We talked for a little while and he asked for my number as everyone stood up around us, jostling for their luggage from the overhead bins. We went on one date, but it was awkward and not a good match. Sometimes you can just tell these things right away.

I met my first serious boyfriend, a college student from the Bay Area, when we were both studying abroad in England. {And through him, I would later meet my dear friend Dana — something I will eternally be grateful to him for!} The night we met, I remember looking across the table at his goofy smile, and there was something familiar about him — it felt to me like a moment out of a movie, like we were somehow guaranteed to meet and fall in love. And perhaps that idea obscured a lot of things that were wrong about us, and all the ways we were not the right fit for each other, until eventually — like some couples in some movies do — we reached an ending that also felt inevitable in its truth.

The thing about online dating is, I know you aren’t meeting someone in front of a painting at an art gallery or in line for a sandwich during the lunch rush, but I still think there’s a component of magic — of, dare I say, fate? — at play in your meeting each other. Because there are a lot of people on online dating sites. And there are a lot of online dating sites out there. What if I had signed up for OkCupid in February or March instead of January, and Allyn wasn’t on the site anymore? What if he had met someone else or given up and decided to take a break from dating? What if I hadn’t decided to browse profiles that night, and I had never come across his cute smile?

Even though we met online, there are still a million ways we could have missed each other. We could have — as far as statistics go, we should have — but we didn’t. We found each other. I think there is magic in that.

Plus, a first date will always be a first date, whether you met online or at the dog park or through mutual friends. There will always be those first-date butterflies and nervousness, the tentative hug hello, the polite questions and the relief when you share that first genuine laugh together. I vividly remember walking down the street towards Allyn on our first date. It was evening, drizzling rain, and the streetlights and shop lights were reflecting on the sidewalk in a lovely way. Allyn and I were meeting at an ice cream shop, and halfway down the block I glimpsed a man standing on the sidewalk, waiting for someone. I was pretty sure it was the ice cream shop, and I was pretty sure the man was Allyn. I remember staring at him for a few moments, wondering who he would turn out to be. Then I looked away before he noticed me, glancing in the storefronts and shop windows for the rest of the block until I reached him. I remember the buzzing of my nerves, and the warmth of his smile when we said hello for the first time in person. There was no lightning bolt. There were no fireworks blazing through the sky. There was just him, and me, and the rain, and our smiles, and the magic of two open hearts getting to know each other, a little at a time.

If our “meet-cute” story was written in a book or a movie or a TV show, here’s how it would go:

One night in late January 2014, sunflowergirl87 was browsing OkCupid when she came across a photo of a handsome guy with a bird on his shoulder, OaktownA’sFan, who the dating-site algorithim declared was a 92% match. She decided to reach out with a message.

Hi! I was really drawn to your profile — you seem like such a genuine, adventurous, glass-half-full person, and I just wanted to reach out and say hello….

OaktownA’sFan read this sincere, heart-on-her-sleeve message and immediately knew this girl had not been online dating for long, because she sounded way too optimistic and friendly. “I better swoop her up fast,” he thought.

Hi there! Thank you for such a sweet and thoughtful message. I would love to meet up for coffee or tea sometime!

They messaged back and forth a little bit — about Dallas’s writing, Allyn’s sustainable business MBA program, dogs, random acts of kindness — before OaktownA’sFan {my name is Allyn, pronounced Alan} asked sunflowergirl87 {my name is Dallas, like the city} out for ice cream at Lottie’s Ice Cream Parlor in Walnut Creek.

Their first date, on February 1, was a rainy evening — not the best weather for ice cream, but neither of them minded. Allyn ordered the adventurous flavor with cayenne pepper in it. Dallas ordered something chocolate. Allyn was so attentive asking Dallas questions that she talked and talked and talked and her ice cream all melted. They walked down the street to Starbucks to talk longer because neither felt ready to say goodbye yet. The next day, Allyn asked Dallas out on a second date.

Soon after that, they both disabled their OkCupid accounts.

One final reason I’m grateful that Allyn and I met online is that we were ready to meet each other. Both of us signed up for online dating because we were at places in our lives where we knew what we were looking for. We knew what we wanted; we knew what was important to us and what was not. We were happy with ourselves and happy in our lives. Yes, both of us wanted a partner to share things with — but our happiness wasn’t dependent on each other. I think that was really important, and I think it’s a big reason why our relationship has felt so effortless and right from the very beginning. We were both ready for the big love that we created together — and that we are still creating, each day.

Your turn {if you want}:

  • Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and freewrite about dating. What are some of your dating experiences? What have been your best dates? What about your worst dates?
  • Have you ever been hindered by ideas of how you “should” meet someone? Have you ever held onto a relationship that wasn’t right for too long?
  • If you are currently dating: what are you looking for in a partner? What is important to you?
  • If you are with someone: what is your “how we met” story and where do you feel the magic in it?

a welcoming table

Who do I want to be?

This is a question I ask myself often. It is all too easy to want to live with certain values — to want to be generous, inviting, warm, forgiving — but it can be more difficult to actually act on these values in our daily lives. For example, my paternal grandmother, who passed away when I was five, is someone I remember as being very generous. She was kind, gracious, and taught us to help others. I still remember the extravagant Christmases she loved hosting at her big house: warm, magical, filled with laughter.

dal-and-auden

Me and grandma Auden, circa 1990

However, there is one story about her that always makes me sad. One year my father, a young newspaper columnist, had to work on Thanksgiving, as did his friend Chris. Chris’s family lived in Texas, and when my dad learned he was planning to spend the evening alone, he invited Chris over for Thanksgiving dinner. My grandmother was upset about this. She wanted a small, quiet Thanksgiving, just the family, and made excuses for why it would be a big hassle to include anyone else.

My grandmother was a wonderful person. But I think, on that particular Thanksgiving day, she hid inside what felt familiar and comforting to her. By doing so, she was making her own life smaller. She was choosing scarcity instead of abundance.

When I heard this story as a little girl, I knew that I wanted to make a different choice. I wanted to choose abundance and inclusivity. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that sometimes this choice can be messy and confusing and chaotic. Sometimes you don’t have enough chairs or your plates don’t match or you run out of food. Still, I vow — and continually renew this vow with myself — to always choose a welcoming table. And life is so much richer because of it.

Holiday gathering of family and friends, circa early 2000s

Holiday gathering of family and friends, circa early 2000s

My parents have modeled this choice throughout my life. I did not grow up in the biggest house, but my parents’ home has always been open to everyone. At holidays, they drag out another table and some extra chairs from the garage to fit more people into our celebration. Last-minute guests are not a source of stress, but of joy.

Perhaps my favorite Thanksgiving was when my brother was in business school, and he called home to let my parents know that he had invited his entire cohort to our house. I have never been more proud to be my mother’s daughter than when she smiled a genuine smile and said, “Wonderful! Of course they are all welcome!” Many of his classmates were international students who had nowhere else to go for the holiday, and who had never celebrated Thanksgiving before. Our traditions were rejuvenated with new life as we explained our rituals and shared our meal with them, and learned about their own homes and cultures.

woodsgiving

I’ll be honest: after helping my mom cook for two days leading up to that Thanksgiving, I don’t think I have ever been more tired in my life {including the day of my wedding!} But it was well worth it. I will cherish the memory of that welcoming table for the rest of my life.

Who do I want to be?

Who do we want to be?

As novelist Elizabeth Gilbert wrote in a recent blog post: “Ask yourself again and again who you want to be, and believe that you can be it.”

During the entire year, and especially during the holiday season, may our hearts and our homes be a place of welcome.

when your brimming cup of tea spills all over the table

You guys, I had one of those rough days yesterday. We’ve all had them. Those days when, for some mysterious reason, Criticism and Rejection and Disappointment decide to band together and visit you, one right after the other right after the other, all within the same span of 24 hours, like annoying uninvited guests who crash the perfectly lovely party you had planned.

Now, I want to say right off the bat that I know I am really lucky. My bad day did not include me, or anyone I love, becoming hurt or sick or injured. It did not include any car accidents or broken gadgets or lost items. The worst it contained in that regard was a cup of spilled tea, which I will get to in a moment.

But still, at the end of the day, I was left feeling a little bit beaten-up. A little bit discouraged. A little bit heartsick. And I want to share this with you because sometimes the Internet can be so shiny. We read these beautiful blogs with gorgeous photos and happy news and goals and milestones and that is all well and good. I love reading these inspiring blogs — they give me hope and motivate me. However, no one’s life is a highlight reel. I believe there is beauty and worth in the messiness, too. I want to show you my messiness as well as my happy dances.

fallen tree

I have been fortunate enough to have been able to pursue my dreams of writing and teaching for more than a decade now. At this point, I have learned to expect rejection. When I send out a short story or query an editor about an article idea, I prep myself for disappointment as soon as I press the “send” button. Rejection is the price of admission to creativity, as one of my favorite writers says. Every “no” you receive is one step closer to a “yes.” I believe in that, deeply. So rejections don’t normally bother me too much, even when they come in a string one right after the other.

But lately, I have been pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Inspired by the amazing Whitney at sometimes.always.never, I have given myself a goal of taking one small risk every single day. Applying for programs and opportunities that I might have otherwise talked myself out of. Putting myself out there, reaching out to people I admire, sending that email, submitting that idea for a speaking gig, because, I ask myself … what do you have to lose? Nothing. 

Let me tell you, friends, that is a terrific space to be living and creating in. I have felt very inspired the past month since I started doing this. I am feeling more empowered in my creativity. I am filled with more optimism and ideas. While sometimes I am still anxious to take these little risks, as a whole I am finding myself embracing the unknown more than I would have thought possible. My life has felt full-to-the-brim with opportunity.

But something that I wasn’t anticipating was what it would feel like when these new little risks ended in rejection. For some reason, the disappointment feels more acute. I haven’t braced myself for it in the same way I prepare myself for rejections of my writing pieces. Maybe my skin hasn’t had time to grow thick enough yet, in this new space I am occupying, outside of my comfort zone.

So yesterday, when I received two perfunctory rejections to neat opportunities I had excitedly thrown my hat in the ring for, in addition to a rejection of one of my short stories from a literary journal… it stung. It really stung. I felt that pit of disappointment yawn open in my stomach. That awful feeling of not being good enough hovered around the outskirts of my consciousness like a dark cloud threatening rain. I think we all have that feeling sometimes. You can be a confident, strong, empowered person, and still have those moments when you doubt yourself.

What I’ve found works best for me is not to give those doubts any extra power by tapping into anger or jealousy. I repeat to myself, over and over in my head, that I am worthy and I am enough, exactly as I am. That I don’t need any accolades or rewards to make myself matter. And, after the initial sting has calmed down a little, I reach down into that place of compassion and generosity inside myself. I try to open it wider, like a valve being loosened. And yes, when I push myself to try, I truly can feel others’ joy. I can feel joy for the people who did receive the opportunities that I was rejected from, because they worked very hard and are incredibly deserving. Just as I know that one day in the future — as has happened in the past — I will be on the receiving end of an acceptance letter. There will be other people who receive rejection letters. I would want them to be happy for me. This is what it means to me to practice abundance, not scarcity. To celebrate the joys for each other.

water-redwoods

Yesterday, I was teaching a private writing lesson for two of my favorite students. Everything was going wonderfully — they were super into the lesson, writing their creative stories with abandon, pencils flying across their lined notebook paper. We have our weekly lessons at the kitchen table and their mother always sweetly pours me a cup of tea to enjoy. On this day, mine was filled to the brim. It was sitting on the kitchen table, cooling down. One of my students had a question, and as I reached over to take a look at her paper, my arm bumped the mug of tea … and it spilled all over the table. I mean, ALL over the table, my friends. I leaped up and grabbed the mug, but the damage had already been done. My students’ papers were soaked through.

I felt mortified. I felt ashamed. I felt disappointed in myself. I felt stupid. I felt SO bad for spilling that tea!

But my students taught me something. They are only nine and eleven years old, but they possess so much grace.

“I’m so sorry, you guys!” I said. “I can’t believe I just did that!”

“It’s okay, Miss Dallas,” they said. And I could sense it immediately — they weren’t upset. They grabbed some paper towels and rags from the laundry room, and together we cleaned up the mess. I blotted their papers with towels and set them on the counter to dry. They weren’t ruined after all, just wet. Once they dried, they would be fine.

However I was still annoyed with myself, feeling aggravated and to-blame for the disruption. “I’m so sorry, you guys,” I said again.

“It’s okay, Miss Dallas,” said the nine-year-old boy, a seriousness in his voice that I rarely hear. (Usually he is full of laughter and playfulness.) “It was a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes.” And he proceeded to tell me about the time he spilled an entire bowl of soup on his lap.

“Plus, now it smells nice in here — like green tea!” his sister chimed in.

Even as I type this, I have tears in my eyes. I want to treat myself with as much forgiveness and gentleness and understanding as those two wonderful kids showed me. When, metaphorically, my brimming mug of piping hot tea spills all over the table — when I feel disappointed, or criticized, or rejected, or frustrated — I want to respond the way they did. With calm. With love. With a shrug of the shoulders. With the knowledge that it’s going to be okay.

Together, we dried off the table. We got out fresh sheets of lined paper. They kept writing.

20160130_150838

So, do you know what I’m doing today? I’m picking myself up, dusting myself off, and starting over again. I’m still pushing myself to take those small daily risks. I’m still going after those opportunities that seem out of my reach, out of my comfort zone. I’m still trying my best to learn and grow and push myself every single day, even when it is painful. Even when it is hard. Even when it is scary. Because it is still worth it, always.

Oh! And in case you’re wondering, I did learn another lesson from that mug of spilled tea. As I sit here at my desk, I’m drinking my green tea out of a travel mug. With the lid on. 😉

what our smelly little compost bin has taught me about hope

Where I live, waste management services not only take our recyclables and trash, they also take our food scraps to be composted. Composting is so important because it helps keep biodegradable waste out of landfills, thus not producing methane — the most potent greenhouse gas. {For more information on why this is so important, here is a helpful link.} Another amazing thing about composting is that it takes what was once “trash” and turns it into something useful — our banana peels and apple cores and egg shells eventually become nutritious fertilizer to help grow the next generation of plants, flowers and food.

However, in our apartment building, not many people compost. Here are the reasons the building manager gave: the little green bins get “stinky” {true — which is why you take them out often} and could potentially cause bug problems {not true in our experience}… also, that they are “a hassle.” But, when you think about it, pretty much everything that is good for you is a hassle! Brushing and flossing your teeth is a hassle. Cooking healthful meals is more of a hassle than the fast food drive-through. Going out of your way to help someone else is “a hassle.” All of these actions are more than worth it because they ultimately make our lives, our health, our communities and our world better.

Besides — especially when you live somewhere like we do where waste management services take care of dumping the big compost bins and carting the compost away every other week — composting is not that much of a hassle at all.

Still, something I have learned in life is that we can try our best to convince and persuade and motivate others, but when it comes down to it, we only truly have control over our own actions. Allyn and I cannot control whether the other people in our apartment complex care enough about the environment to compost their food scraps. But we can choose to compost our own food waste. We can choose to make grocery lists and buy less so food does not go bad wastefully. We can choose to buy food in bulk instead of in plastic containers. We can choose to carry our reusable bags to the grocery store. We can make small choices every day that reflect our values and make a tiny difference that, over time, adds up to big change.

*

When I was in high school during the second Bush presidency, one of my teachers was a Vietnam war veteran. He taught physics, but would occasionally go off on tangents about current events and politics. One day in particular, during the height of the Iraq War, he started ranting about the terrors of war. In a firm voice — the same tone he used to teach us the facts of the universe from our physics textbook — he predicted that there would once again be a draft and none of us would be able to get out of it. We would all go to war.

The fear in that room was palpable and contagious. One girl in the front row even started crying. She had a scholarship to play softball in college the next year, and by the end of class she was convinced that she wouldn’t be able to go to college because she would be drafted into the military. I remember comforting her in the hallway during passing period, my own fear a steady pressure in my chest. I don’t think our teacher meant any harm. I think he was dealing with his own worries and his own memories of war, and we were a captive audience. But I learned that day about the power fear has to take hold in you, and how quickly the flames can be fanned. The dark cloud of fear can eclipse your bright hopes for the future, unless you are vigilant and guard against it with the best resources you have. When the smoke of fear billows up in your life, you have two choices. You can use the fear around you to fan the flames of your own fear. Or you can choose to try your hardest to blow away the smoke with faith and patience and love and hope.

*

Many people in our nation — in our world — are hurting and scared. This is always the case, but it is especially true right now. Maybe you are hurting and scared. What can you do today to show yourself self-care and self-love? How can you be gentle with yourself? How can you choose love over fear today? And what is at least one way you can reach out and help someone else who needs it?

*

When I lived in Indiana during graduate school, composting was not the norm. Recycling was not very prominent, either. I still remember collecting all my bottles and cans that first month of living there, and searching online to realize there was no place to redeem them as there had been in my California hometown.

I have always cared about the environment. When I was a little girl, I used to daydream about planting trees along the grubby highways when we would drive to Los Angeles to visit relatives. It sickens and frightens me to think about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the decimation of rainforests, the looming extinction of many animal species, and our rising sea levels. And I do profoundly believe that the actions we take make a difference.

However, during this time I let myself sink into complacency. I did not make the effort to compost, or recycle as much as I could, or cut down on my plastic waste. I drifted along in the easy culture of consumption, letting myself forget that the trash I produced would actually GO somewhere — it didn’t magically disappear by a magic wand when the garbage collector took my trash bags away every other week. I didn’t take the time — didn’t go through the minor extra hassle — to truly ACT on my values. I let myself fall into the trap of believing that my small actions weren’t important “in the grand scheme of things” — that my actions, for some absurd reason, could be exempt from having consequences.

There was a lot going on in my life at that time, and I could make a lot of excuses for myself and my behavior. But I don’t want to. I feel sad that I let myself get carried away on the tide of apathy, but soon enough I found myself back on the shore. And, now more than ever, I know that I never want to be apathetic again. The thing about letting yourself “off the hook” — of choosing to look away, to not care, to pretend that you have no choice or power to change — is that it comes with a steep price. The guilt catches up to you.

*

Allyn very sweetly is the one who always takes our smelly compost bin out to the big green bins lined up by the parking lot and dumps our food scraps into the communal bin. When we first moved in ten months ago, he said there were hardly any other food scraps in there. Even worse, sometimes the big bins would be contaminated by trash or recycling.

But slowly, over time, a shift has happened. Allyn has started to notice the communal compost bins are fuller and fuller each week, and there is less and less contamination. Little by little, more people are beginning to compost their food scraps, even though it can be smelly, even though it can be a hassle. More and more people are beginning to care.

Every time I reach under the kitchen sink, lift open the lid of our compost bin, and dump in a banana peel or an apple core or an egg shell, I think about hope. I think about change. I think about beauty and love and selflessness. I think about doing whatever I can, in this singular life I have been given, to act on my values and do my part to make our precious world a better and brighter and more compassionate and inclusive place. Today, and tomorrow, and the day after that, and onward and onward, I will make choices. I will choose to try. I will choose to care. I will choose to fight for justice and goodness and love. It is all that I can do.

I hope you will join me.

on listening

When it happens, I can always feel it physically: an internal shifting, a sense of shutting down. At a cocktail party, when someone asks me about myself, then glances around the room as I begin to answer. When I’m having lunch with a friend who keeps checking Facebook at the table. During a phone conversation, when I finish a story and the pause on the other end of the line is a tad too long and the person’s voice sounds like they are returning from somewhere else far away.

In all of these moments, I know that I am speaking, but am not being heard. The other person is not listening to me at all. And I always feel myself shrink. I quickly summarize whatever story I was telling. I curtail my remarks. Any chance at opening up to this person and being vulnerable in this moment is gone.

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All of us can remember times when we have felt not listened to. And, to be fair, all of us have been that distracted person as well, experiencing the vertigo that comes when a conversation ends and you realize you have zero recollection of what was just said.

But also, I hope every one of us can remember a time when we felt wholly listened to. Because of this, we felt connected, cared for, understood. As Ed Cunningham said, “Friends are those rare people who ask how we are, and then wait to hear the answer.”

And not only friends — sometimes acquaintances, or even strangers, are the listeners we need the most. When my dear friend Céline died, I was fortunate to have many friends and family members who lovingly and generously listened to me. I particularly remember crying on the phone with my parents and brother the morning we learned the news, and also the way Greg held my hand and listened during the weekend of Céline’s funeral and celebration of life. Allyn unfortunately never got to meet Céline, but his smile when he listens to my stories about her makes it seem as if he knew her. The same is true for my friend Dana, who met me for lunch on the anniversary of her death. And I don’t know what I would do without my long conversations with Holly as we continue to navigate through grief together.

And also, when I think of listening, I think of an acquaintance I have named Cynthia who is a hospital chaplain and volunteers through my church’s grief group. When Céline passed away, Cynthia invited me to coffee. I remember driving to the coffeeshop, feeling numb, thinking that I didn’t have much to say. Yet when I sat down with Cynthia, and she asked, “How are you doing?” with so much concern in her voice, all of these words and emotions came spilling out of me. I was trying to “be strong” in front of all the people I loved in my life, who knew me and worried about me, to show them that I was doing okay. With Cynthia, I didn’t have to prove anything. In the wake of my life’s biggest loss, that experience of being deeply listened to by a near-stranger meant so much.

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In one of my favorite songs — “Quiet” by Jason Mraz — the lyrics of the chorus go like this:

I will hold your hand

And watch the world spin madly round

This life we’re in

Everything goes quiet

When it’s you I’m with

These words make me think of sanctuary. Often, in everyday life — and especially when it feels like the world is spinning madly around us — what we yearn for is simply someone to hold our hand and sit quietly beside us. Listening creates sanctuary for each other.

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Karl Menniger says, “Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” Let us be brave enough to listen — to create, unfold, expand. To be there for each other. To offer grace and understanding. To listen, really listen, truly and deeply and gratefully. Because when show up in this way for each other, we are also showing up for ourselves. In strengthening these authentic relationships, we are strengthening the best part of ourselves. In learning to listen to others, we practice listening to those quiet, wise voices within us.

Questions of the day:

  • When was the last time you felt deeply listened to?
  • Who can you give a listening ear to this week?

abundance + gratitude

Hello, my long-lost friends! It has officially been one month and one day since I married the love of my life. I can’t believe how time has flown! I am working on a humongous recap wedding post chock-full of photos for y’all. Here is a sneak-peek photo. 🙂

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In the meantime I wanted to pop in and talk about something that has been on my heart and mind a lot lately: the concept of abundance.

If you had talked to six-months-ago me or one-year-ago me about money, “abundance” would not have been a word on the tip of my tongue. I used to worry about money. Since childhood, I have always been a “saver” more than a “spender” — but I have also followed my passion to a nontraditional career with financial ebbs and flows. When we got engaged and began planning our wedding, everything seemed more expensive than I had anticipated and I remember thinking, “How are we going to afford this??” When we talked about the future, about having children and maybe buying a house one day, inwardly I started doing tabulations and felt myself panic a little. Not to mention the unplanned emergencies, the curveballs that life throws at everyone sooner or later.

When you’re in a mindset like this, it can seem like the only solution is to clench your fists and dig in. To count your nickels and dimes, scowl at every donation request you receive, and feel even the most necessary of expenses gnawing away at you. To worry yourself into a consciousness of scarcity. 

My parents generously offered to shoulder the financial burden of our wedding, and my gratitude was immense and boundless. But instead of seeing this as the pure blessing it was, I felt guilty with every plan we made — because even the simple wedding we wanted came with many expenses, many moving parts and things to consider. Even though my parents had told us, plainly and clearly, how thrilled they were to be able to help us in this way, I for some reason felt like I was letting them down by using the gift they had given us.

Everything changed when I remembered a story my father told me and my brother when we were kids. It is a story about two brothers who were also great friends. One brother’s passion in life led him to a career with a lot of money. The other brother’s passion led him to an equally worthy career, but one that was not compensated as highly. Both brothers eventually got married and had children of their own. The first brother lived in a beautiful, large home. The second brother had dreams of buying a home for his family, too. Eventually, he worked up his courage and asked his brother for a loan.

“No,” the first brother said. “I won’t loan you the money.”

The second brother felt surprised and hurt—but only for a moment. Because then his brother said, “I won’t loan you the money, but I would be overjoyed to give you the money.”

The second brother gratefully accepted the first brother’s generous gift, and both brothers felt richer in spirit because of it.

I think my father shared this story because he wanted to teach us that money gives us the most joy not when it is hoarded or spent thoughtlessly, but rather when we intentionally use our money as a means of helping those we care about. When I thought about the gift my parents were giving me and Allyn in this new light, everything shifted. And this shift carried over into not just the wedding, but into other parts of my life, too. I began to see the resources in my life not as limited, but instead as abundant. And I began to use gratitude every day to cultivate these feelings of abundance even more.

Thinking back on my life so far, one of my most treasured experiences was when my brother accepted a small financial gift from me to help him with his business school expenses. It was just a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of his degree, but it gave me such joy to feel like I was investing in him and his future. As author Gretchen Rubin writes in her “Secrets of Adulthood,” sometimes we can be generous by taking. Accepting that money was a gift that my brother gave to me.

me and greg graduation

Furthermore, “money” doesn’t have to literally mean money. It can be any type of resource — time, energy, relationships, activities. Sometimes we feel the urge to hoard these resources all to ourselves, to focus on all that we do not have and to worry that we will never have enough. But when we shift our perspective to thinking about how we can share what we have with others, it is amazing how what once felt like “not enough” can suddenly feel like an abundance of riches.

So I’ve got a question for you today, dear readers. Where do you notice and appreciate abundance in your own life — right here, right now? Small details matter just as much as the big things. Write down your list. Read it to yourself a few times today, breathing in deeply with a smile on your face.

It’s amazing how rich this can make you feel.

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Here are some things on my “abundance list” as I sit here at my desk on this sunshiney Wednesday afternoon:

:: abundant in love {never more true than on our wedding day… I am still basking in all the love we felt in that room!}

:: abundant in friendship

:: abundant in community

:: abundant in ideas {driving around in silence has really boosted my creative thinking… it is crazy how many more ideas I get now that I intentionally cleared away a bit of noise}

:: abundant in nourishing food {including these amazing pumpkin gingerbread muffins that I cannot get enough of… I’ve eaten three of these babies in the past five hours and I feel great about it because not only are they autumn in delicious muffin form, they are also ridiculously healthy}

:: abundant in inspiration {there are so many good people in this world, working to do so many good things!}

:: abundant in time*

 

* Okay, I’m still working on this one… maybe this one should more accurately read “MORE abundant in time than I used to feel”… while I still have a million projects I want to tackle and books I want to write and things I want to do in this one wild and precious life I have been blessed with, lately I’ve been feeling less crazy-frantic-rushed than I was feeling, say, a month ago. {This might be because I am no longer planning a wedding!} But I think it is also because I have really been thinking about how I want to structure my days and what it is truly important for me to make time for… and what it might be best to gently let go of. The important things include working on my novel for an hour every morning first thing; doing yoga for even just fifteen minutes every day; and breathing quietly/meditating for five minutes every day. Purposefully setting aside time to do these things makes me feel like more minutes have magically sprouted into my life as the day progresses.

Questions of the day:

  • Where do you feel abundant in your life?
  • What do you feel most grateful for in this season of your life?
  • Where in your life would you like to cultivate more abundance?

Guest Post: The Surprising Benefits of Reality Television

Hi everyone! Oh my goodness, T-minus two weeks until my wedding day and I am a jumble of excitement, nerves, gratitude, stress… mostly excitement! 🙂

I’m sorry that I haven’t been able to post nearly as much as I would like this summer. Wedding-planning combined with teaching summer camps, tutoring my regular clients, travel plans and trying to squeeze in some writing projects has kept me busy “on all burners” as a friend of mine says. Anyway, I want to thank you for your patience during this super busy season of my life! I have a few posts in the pipeline that I am working on finishing up for you sometime soon. In the meantime, one of my blog readers reached out with an idea for a guest post, and I am delighted to present it to you today!

I must admit, when I first read the title of this post, I wasn’t sure I would agree with the writer’s views… I am not much of a TV watcher myself, and I think of “reality TV” squarely in the “guilty pleasures” realm! However, after reading it, my views have broadened. I think this guest blogger makes excellent points and definitely leaves you with some food for thought. Enjoy!

reality tv

The Surprising Benefits of Reality Television

Looking across the television channels, from lifestyle and cooking to educational, reality shows are clearly monopolizing the televised entertainment landscape. Despite the wide range of subcategories, the genre is often regarded as trash TV, offering very little to educate or improve our daily lives and leading most people to focus on the negative aspects of reality television. Contrary to popular belief, plenty of good can come from a daily dose of this guilty pleasure, more than you would think.

On the surface, the only apparent positive effect of reality television is its power to help you unwind from a busy day. One of the keys to letting yourself relax, according to Psych Central, is by figuring out what works best for you, and while MasterChef may not have the same meditative effects as simple breathing exercises or a yoga workout, reality TV gives a sense of escape that allows us to disconnect from our daily stresses. For a moment, the only thing that you focus on is whether or not your favorite contestant is going to make it through to the next round.

But there’s more to game shows and other reality series than just its relaxation benefits. Positive influences have actually stemmed from this TV category. One of the finer examples that prove that TV can be very useful to viewers includes the show Hoarders, as How Stuff Works say that it has increased public awareness on a behavior that many don’t realize is a mental health issue. These documented cases of real people and real problems has made us socially aware and accepting of others, and even supplied us with the tools to make changes in our own lives and help others in need.

On the less serious side of things, talent contests such as The X Factor, which is now at the peak of its popularity with The X Factor Games and other related ventures, expose us to a world of unique and extraordinary abilities that inspire us to explore our own faculties, as well as support the contestants that hope to make a better life for themselves and their families. Weight loss competitions supply us with the guidance to lead a healthier lifestyle without the risks of extreme dieting. Segments that highlight teen pregnancy have encouraged the public to be more cautious with reproductive health, as Benefits of explains that teen pregnancy rates have declined since the premiere of shows like Teen Mom.

They say that television is only good in small doses, but it all depends on the content. Reality TV as a whole may not have the same educational caliber as the likes of National Geographic, though the average Joe and Jane stories are circumstances that we can all relate to, motivating us to become the best version of ourselves.

Questions to think about:

  • Do you watch any reality television? If so, what shows are your favorites?
  • Do you feel motivated by reality TV shows?

dear amber rubarth

Hi. I’m one of the people who came up to you after your concert in San Francisco this past Saturday night and asked you to sign my copy of your CD. I was nervous, and I don’t think I even remembered to tell you my name. I did tell you that I first saw you play at Zoey’s in Ventura years and years ago, and that your music has meant a lot to me. But it is impossible in a one-minute conversation to feel like one is able to say anything that really goes below the surface. I just felt like any other fan, asking to get a picture with you. You were so kind. And then it was the next person in line’s turn and I said goodbye and Allyn and I walked out into the night. And I felt buzzing with happiness at what a wonderful evening it had been, but I also felt a keen layer of frustration beneath my skin. Because I didn’t feel like I expressed myself clearly to you in that one-minute conversation as you signed my CD.

amber rubarth concert sign

Here is what I wanted to tell you.

When I first saw you play, at Zoey’s Cafe in Ventura, I was feeling a little lost and uncertain. I had just graduated college and moved back in with my parents after my grad school and fellowship plans had ended in nothing but rejections. For my entire life up until that period, my identity had been built on structure and over-achievement. Suddenly, I was floundering. I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t know how to build a career out of it. I felt like everyone else I knew had “real jobs” and paychecks and responsibilities and exciting lives in new cities. Meanwhile, I was back in time, living once again in my childhood bedroom, unsure what the future held. And I had broken up with my college boyfriend, someone I had loved very much but had realized was not the love of my life. I felt confident it was the right decision, but I missed him. And part of me worried no one else would ever love me again.

I went to your concert at Zoey’s as part of my attempt to get out more and meet people. Zoey’s owners, Polly and Steve, had always been kind to me — they had even hosted a book signing for me back when I was in high school and released a collection of short stories — and I would check their website often for live music shows. Usually, I would go by myself. I went by myself to your show, and sat at the bar because there were no other seats available, and tried not to feel like a loser amidst the crowd of couples and families. Was I the only one there alone? But as soon as you started singing, I forgot to feel self-conscious. I felt myself in your songs. I felt understood. I listened to your beautiful, fragile, strong voice sing bravely and vulnerably about love and hope and healing, and for the first time in quite some time I felt excited to fall in love again. I felt like the world was indeed a wondrous place and that there was magic out in the future waiting for me.

That night, I went up to you after your show and bought both of your CDs and listened to them on repeat for months, driving around in my car, trying to find myself again. I particularly remember listening to You Will Love This Song on repeat and repeat and repeat. The details felt so true. Your song helped me get over my ex, while still remembering with bittersweet fondness the love we had shared, and taking in what it had taught me, and what I was looking for in a future love.

I got into grad school for fiction writing and moved halfway across the country, from my native California to a small college town in Indiana. If I thought I had felt lonely and uncertain before, I was on a whole new barometer of loneliness now. For the first time, I lived in a one-bedroom apartment by myself. I missed my family with aching fierceness. I felt overwhelmed with my new responsibilities and making friends had never seemed more difficult. I wondered if there was something wrong with me. I dreaded Fridays because it meant an endless weekend stretched before me; sometimes, a trip to the grocery store was my entire social interaction. It snowed and snowed. I wrote epically long emails to my friend Holly. I read and read and tried to write, authentically, for myself, even though criticism from my peers in workshop resounded loudly in my head. I went on a couple of unsuccessful blind dates and developed one or two hopeless crushes and listened to your song 23. I learned to cook for one. I listened to your CDs as I drove around in my same old car in this unfamiliar new town. Your songs made me feel a little bit less alone, a little bit braver. Especially Chrysanthemum Song.

I eventually met a guy, and we were together for a little while, and I was so grateful to have someone that I lost a lot of myself in the relationship. When everything fell apart, suddenly and irrevocably, I found myself again in the rubble. My brother came out to Indiana to help me regain my footing that first week, and he is also a fan of yours and he would put on your music. When I was sad, I listened to In The Creases and cried. But I simultaneously felt washed anew in a bright, sure happiness. That summer, I listened to your song The Edge and felt like you were speaking directly to me, to what I was feeling, to this new life that I was standing on the crest of, looking out across the landscape.

I moved back to California, this time to the Bay Area. I fit the pieces of myself back together again, trying on some new pieces too: zumba, yoga, green smoothies, long hikes, online dating. I met my sweetie in late January and falling in love with him was like nothing I had ever felt before: swift and yet not rushed at all; patient and trusting yet filled with surprises; gentle and passionate and balanced and consuming, all at once. As you sing in When It Fits, when it fits just right, it takes no time to know.

We spent that summer apart because he moved to New Orleans for three months for an internship. I went out to visit him and we spent three glorious weeks together, eating beignets and walking around the French Quarter and snapping photos of alligators during a swamp tour. The morning I left, I gave him a mix CD I had made for him. We listened to it as he drove me to the airport. I remember rolling down the window and breathing in the cool morning air — it was still dark out and the streets were deserted — as your Song to Thank the Stars played from his car stereo. The rest of the summer, whenever I was missing him too much, I would listen to that song and the ache inside me would ease a little into gratitude.

When one of my best friends died in a car accident, music and books were two of the only things that brought me any sort of comfort. The first six months, I was in a daze. I felt like I was living underwater. I remember listening to your song Pilot. The lyrics from that song run still through my head sometimes, on days when I feel in need of a spark.

Five months ago, my love proposed by serenading me with a Jason Mraz song on the guitar: Quiet. It seems fitting that one of my favorite duets is a song by Jason Mraz and you, which also makes me think of my sweetheart; I’ve been listening to it on repeat lately, as I plan our wedding.

A couple months ago, Amber, when I saw you were going to play a concert in San Francisco, I was so excited. I told Allyn that was all I wanted for my birthday: to go to your concert. So he bought tickets, and I circled the date on my calendar, and we went. When you came out onstage and began to sing, I felt transported back to that night six years ago at Zoey’s cafe. So much was different then. So much has changed. I think back to that shy, nervous, uncertain girl I was, and she seems so young and far away. And yet — hearing you sing your older songs made me feel connected to my previous selves. Sitting in that concert beside Allyn made me feel like I got to share those memories with him, in some osmosis sort of way.

Your concert was beautiful. Your joy was contagious. The audience adored you and we cheered and cheered until you came back out and played us an encore. My breath caught in my throat when your final song was A Song To Thank The Stars. I held Allyn’s hand and felt filled to the brim with grace and love. When you signed my CD, I told you how happy I was that you played that song. You confided that it was the only song you performed that was not on your set list, that you felt compelled to play it at the end of the night for some reason. “You must have been sending lots of mental vibes for me to play it!” you said, laughing. The song felt even more like a gift after hearing that.

me and amber rubarth 2

I guess what I’m trying to say with all of this, Amber, is that your music matters. You don’t even know my name, but your music has mattered immensely in my life. It has helped me feel less alone in my lonely times, and more grateful in my joyful times, and it has made me think and made me feel and helped me to be braver and kinder and more attuned to the tiny details of the world around me.

Thank you for your music. I hope you always keep making music. I am so excited to hear what you create next.

Love,
Dallas

on saying yes

I’ve written on this blog before about the importance of saying no. Of creating boundaries in your life, and respecting them. Of refusing to run yourself ragged trying to be everything and do everything and please everyone around you. Of saying no to what is not important, so you can make room for what is important.

And this is all very true, and {as a natural people-pleaser} something I continue to work on in my life.

But I was thinking this morning about how saying no is just one side of the coin–how, if we want to create happy and fulfilling lives, it is important to be aware of saying yes, too. Saying yes intentionally. Saying yes thoughtfully. Saying yes joyfully and lovingly.

Saying yes to things that fill us up… and saying yes to things that fill others up, too.

I was thinking this morning about our upcoming wedding, and how loved it makes me feel that the people in our lives are celebrating joyfully with us. All the people who took the time to send us congratulations cards {displayed on our bookshelf; they make me smile every day!} How Dana and her mom made a special effort to take me out to lunch to celebrate. How much it means to me that Allyn’s mom and sister are throwing me a bridal shower up here in the Bay. I mean, everyone is busy enough with their own lives. Everyone surely had reason to say no, to refrain from adding one more task or commitment to their lives, to focus instead on the hundreds of other things going on around them. No one had to do any of this for me and Allyn.

But do you know what? It matters. It matters so much to me.

When I look back on this period of my life in ten years, I am sure there are many details I am not going to remember. But I am going to remember the cards people sent, the lunch with Dana and Lynn, the bridal shower that Barbara and Allyson are throwing for me. These memories are gifts that I am going to take with me the rest of my life.

The funny thing is, especially with sending cards or letters, that sometimes we don’t even remember sending them, weeks or months or years later. But you never know what will be priceless to the recipient. What words will come at just the right moment. My Gramps has kept a condolence letter from John Wooden in his briefcase for the 24 years since my grandmother passed away, and he still takes it out and reads it all the time. Those words on that folded piece of note paper have brought him comfort for decades. It is likely that Coach Wooden did not even remember sending that letter, but it has meant the world to my Gramps. I feel the same way about cards and Facebook messages I got from friends and acquaintances after Celine died. Lines from those messages have become touchstones for me, memorized and recited in my head when I am feeling lonely or sad or discouraged.

I guess what I’m saying is, when it comes to saying yes, it is always worth it to take the ten minutes out of your busy day to send a card or email or Facebook message. Even if you haven’t talked to the person in years. Even if you’re not sure what to say. Make the effort. Say something. Reach out. Because it matters.

Being thoughtful matters. Taking time for other people matters.

It mattered that my parents came to every one of my track meets and basketball games and school plays when I was growing up. I can vividly remember the comfort and calm I would feel when I looked up in the bleachers and saw their smiles. It mattered. Every single one of those days mattered. It would have been easy for them to say no. It would have been easy for them to be too busy with work. They certainly both had many other things on their to-do lists. But they said yes. Again and again, they said yes. They came. And that feeling of comfort and calm and support has stayed with me, all these years later. It mattered then, and it continues to matter now.

My parents said yes to big things, too. Always without resentment, without martyrdom. They said yes and meant it. My mom was President of our Youth Track club for many years, organizing volunteers and running track meets for hundreds of kids {and this was back in the days of dirt tracks and manual timers clocked by humans, not computers} and all this on top of her full-time job. As a young girl, I got to see my mother as a leader in public. She was a woman in charge, running things, making decisions and finding solutions. She was an example for me that you can be kind, yet also strong at the same time. This mattered.

When I was in second grade, my dad came to every single performance of my school play, even though it meant missing covering the NBA finals for his job as a sports columnist. Many people would have made the opposite decision; but to my dad, he was saying yes to what was most important. His actions were his message, loud and clear: my family is more important to me than anything, even my work. It mattered to me then, and as the years pass it matters to me more and more, because I realize how easy it would have been for him to say no. How easy it would have been for him to be too busy to come to a single performance, much less every single performance. The same is true for when my dad surprised me and drove up to San Jose for my Steinbeck Fellows reading, just to turn around and drive right back home that same night {to take care of our family dog Murray.} There were dozens of reasons for my dad to say no to making that 10-hour trip. There were dozens of reasons why it was a hassle, why he didn’t have time, why he had too much else going on. But he said yes anyway. And it mattered. Boy, did it matter. That memory of him walking into the room is one I will treasure for my entire life.

From personal experience, many of my sweetest and most satisfying memories are those times when I said yes even though it would have been easy to say no. That time my friend Janet and I flew across the country for a weekend to surprise our friend Lauren for her birthday. When I took time off work to travel to my brother’s Girl Effect panel and spend time with him in the final days of his MBA program. Planning a bridal shower for my cousin Amanda from halfway across the country in the midst of writing my graduate thesis. Dog-sitting for my parents for two weeks so they could take the trip of a lifetime to Ireland to celebrate their anniversary. Throwing a surprise birthday party for my sweetheart in a San Francisco restaurant. Making a few hours’ detour on a road trip to see my friends Xun and Hai while they were in town. Making the effort to go the book signing, attend the baby shower, throw the party, drive the extra distance… it has mattered, every time. I have been grateful that I said yes, every time.

Which is all to say that we should strive for balance. Saying no is important, of course. I am still working on strengthening my “no” muscle. And it is always better to say “no” than to say “yes” with strings of resentment or bitterness attached.

But I think, just as it is important to say no with intention, it is also important to say yes with intention. Whether I am saying no or yes, I do not want to say either out of selfishness. I do not want to hoard all my time for myself, nor do I want to give all my time away to others. I want to say both no and yes out of my innermost generosity: a generosity towards myself, recognizing that I can only be my best self when I have time and space to breathe and recharge; and a generosity towards others, purposefully going out of my way and choosing to take on more responsibility and effort for those who matter to me. Because they are worth it. Because the memories are worth it. Because acting out of love is what makes life so worth living.